Woman is recognized by Islam as a full and equal partner of man
in the procreation of humankind. He is the father; she is the
mother, and both are essential for life. Her role is not less
vital than his. By this partnership she has an equal share in
every aspect; she is entitled to equal rights; she undertakes
equal responsibilities, and in her there are as many qualities
and as much humanity as there are in her partner. To this equal
partner- ship in the reproduction of human kind God says:
mankind! Verily We have created your from a single (pair) of a
male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you
may know each other...
She is equal to man in bearing personal
and common responsibilities and in receiving rewards for her deeds.
She is acknowledged as an independent personality, in possession
of human qualities and worthy of spiritual aspirations. Her human
nature is neither inferior to nor deviant from that of man. Both
are members of one another. God says:
their Lord has accepted (their prayers) and answered them (saying):
'Never will I cause to be lost the work of any of you, be he male
or female; you are members, one of another...
She is equal to man in the pursuit of education
and knowledge. When Islam enjoins the seeking of knowledge upon
Muslims, it makes no distinction between man and woman. Almost
fourteen centuries ago, Muhammad declared that the pursuit of
knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim male and female. This declaration
was very clear and was implemented by Muslims throughout history.
She is entitled to freedom of expression
as much as man is. Her sound opinions are taken into consideration
and cannot be disregarded just because she happen to belong to
the female sex. It is reported in the Qur'an and history that
woman not only expressed her opinion freely but also argued and
participated in serious discussions with the Prophet himself as
well as with other Muslim leaders (Qur'an, 58:1-4; 60:10-12).
Besides there were occasions when Muslim women expressed their
views on legislative matters of public interest, and stood in
opposition to the Caliphs, who then accepted the sound arguments
of these women. A specific example took place during the Caliphate
of Umar Ibn al-Khattab.
Historical records show that women participated in public life
with the early Muslims, especially in times of emergencies. Women
used to accompany the Muslim armies engaged in battles to nurse
the wounded, prepare supplies, serve the warriors, and so on.
They were not shut behind iron bars or considered worthless creatures
and deprived of souls.
Islam grants woman equal rights to contract, to enterprise, to
earn and possess independently. Her life, her property, her honour
are as sacred as those of man. If she commits any offence, her
penalty is no less or more than of man's in a similar case. If
she is wronged or harmed, she gets due compensations equal to
what a man in her position would get (2:178;4:45,
Islam does not state these rights
in a statistical form and then relax. It has taken all measures
to safeguard them and put them into practice as integral articles
of Faith. It never tolerates those who are inclined to prejudice
against woman or discrimination between man and woman. Time and
again, the Qur'an reproaches those who used to believe woman to
be inferior to man (16:57-59,
62; 42:47-59; 43:15-19; 53:21-23).
Apart from recognition of woman as
an independent human being acknowledged as equally essential for
the survival of humanity, Islam has given her a share of inheritance.
Before Islam, she was not only deprived of that share but was
herself considered as property to be inherited by man. Out of
that transferable property Islam made an heir, acknowledging the
inherent human qualifies in woman. Whether she is a wife or mother,
a sister or daughter, she receives a certain share of the deceased
kin's property, a share which depends on her degree of relationship
to the deceased and the number of heirs. This share is hers, and
no one can take it away or disinherit her. Even if the deceased
wishes to deprive her by making a will to other relations or in
favour of any other cause, the Law will not allow him to do so.
Any proprietor is permitted to make his will within the limit
of one-third of his property, so he may not affect the rights
of his heirs, men and women. In the case of inheritance, the question
of quality and sameness is fully applicable. In principle, both
man and woman are equally entitled to inherit the property of
the deceased relations but the portions they get may vary. In
some instances man receives two shares whereas woman gets one
only. This no sign of giving preference or supremacy to man over
woman. The reasons why man gets more in these particular instances
may be classified as follows:
is the person solely responsible for the complete maintenance
of his wife, his family and any other needy relations. It is his
duty by Law to assume all financial responsibilities and maintain
his dependents adequately. It is also his duty to contribute financially
to all good causes in his society. All financial burdens are borne
by him alone.
in contrast, woman has no financial responsibilities whatsoever
except very little of her personal expenses, the high luxurious
things that she likes to have. She is financially secure and provided
for. If she is a wife, her husband is the provider; if she is
a mother, it is the son; if she is a daughter, it is the father;
if she is a sister; it is the brother, and so on. If she has no
relations on whom she can depend, then there is no question of
inheritance because there is nothing to inherit and there is no
one to bequeath anything to her. However, she will not be left
to starve, maintenance of such a woman is the responsibility of
the society as a whole, the state. She may be given aid or a job
to earn her living, and whatever money she makes will be hers.
She is not responsible for the maintenance of anybody else besides
herself. If there is a man in her position, he would still be
responsible for his family and possibly any of his relations who
need his help. So, in the hardest situation her financial responsibility
is limited, while his is unlimited.
when a woman gets less than a man does, she is not actually deprived
of anything that she has worked for. The property inherited is
not the result of her earning or her endeavours. It is something
coming to them from a neutral source, something additional or
extra. It is something that neither man or woman struggled for.
It is a sort of aid, and any aid has to be distributed according
to the urgent needs and responsibilities especially when the distribution
is regulated by the Law of God.
Now, we have
a male heir, on one side, burdened with all kinds of financial
responsibilities and liabilities. We have, on the other side,
a female heir with no financial responsibilities at all or at
most with very little of it. In between we have some property
and aid to redistribute by way of inheritance. If we deprive the
female completely, it would be unjust to her because she is related
to the deceased. Likewise, if we always give her a share equal
to the man's, it would be unjust to him. So, instead of doing
injustice to either side, Islam gives the man a larger portion
of the inherited property to help him to meet his family needs
and social responsibilities. At the same time, Islam has not forgotten
her altogether, but has given her a portion to satisfy her very
personal needs. In fact, Islam in this respect is being more kind
to her than to him. Here we can say that when taken as a whole
the rights of woman are equal to those of man although not necessarily
identical (see Qur'an, 4:11-14, 176).
In some instances of bearing witness to certain civil con- tracts,
two men are required or one man and two women. Again, this is
no indication of the woman being inferior to man. It is a measure
of securing the rights of the contracting parties, because woman
as a rule, is not so experienced in practical life as man. This
lack of experience may cause a loss to any party in a given contract.
So the Law requires that at least two women should bear witness
with one man. if a woman of the witness forgets something, the
other one would remind her. Or if she makes an error, due to lack
of experience, the other would help to correct her. This is a
precautionary measure to guarantee honest transactions and proper
dealings between people. In fact, it gives woman a role to play
in civil life and helps to establish justice. At any rate, lack
of experience in civil life does not necessarily mean that women
are inferior to man in her status. Every human being lacks one
thing or another, yet no one questions their human status (2:282).
Woman enjoys certain privileges of which man is deprived. She
is exempt from some religious duties, i.e., prayers and fasting,
in her regular periods and at times of confinement. She is exempt
from all financial liabilities. As a mother, she enjoys more recognition
and higher honour in the sight of God (31:14-15;46:15).
The Prophet acknowledged this honour when he declared that Paradise
is under the feet of the mothers. She is entitled to three-fourths
of the son's love and kindness with one-fourth left for their
father. As a wife she is entitled to demand of her prospective
husband a suitable dowry that will be her own. She is entitled
to complete provision and total maintenance by the husband. She
does not have to work or share with her husband the family expenses.
She is free to retain, after marriage, whatever she possessed
before it, and the husband has no right whatsoever to any of her
belongings. As a daughter or sister she is entitled to security
and provision by the father and brother respectively. That is
her privilege. If she wishes to work or be self-supporting and
participate in handling the family responsibilities, she is quite
free to do so, provided her integrity and honour are safeguarded.
The standing of woman in prayers behind
man does not indicate in any sense that she is inferior to him.
Woman, as already mentioned, is exempt from attending congregational
prayers, which are obligatory on man. But if she does attend she
stands in separate lines made up of women exclusively . This is
a regulation of discipline in prayers, and not a classification
of importance. In men's rows the head of state stands shoulder
to shoulder to the pauper. Men of the highest ranks in society
stand in prayer side by side with other men of the lowest ranks.
The order of lines in prayers is introduced to help every one
to concentrate in his meditation. It is very important because
Muslim prayers are not simply chanting or the sing-a-song type.
They involve actions, motions, standing, bowing, prostration,
etc. So if men mix with women in the same lines, it is possible
that something disturbing or distracting may happen. The mind
will become occupied by something alien to prayer and derailed
from the clear path of mediation. The result will be a loss of
the purpose of prayers, besides an offence of adultery committed
by the eye, because the eye-by looking at forbidden things - can
be guilty of adultery as much as the heart itself. Moreover, no
Muslim man or woman is allowed during prayers to touch the body
of another person of the opposite sex. If men and women stand
side by side in prayer they cannot avoid touching each other.
Furthermore, when a woman is praying in front of a man or beside
him, it is very likely that any part of her dressed body may become
uncovered after a certain motion of bowing or prostrating. The
man's eye may happen to be looking at the uncovered part, with
the result that she will be embarrassed and he will be exposed
to distraction or possibly evil thoughts. So, to avoid any embarrassment
and distraction to help concentrate on mediation and pure thoughts,
to maintain harmony and order among worshippers, to fulfil the
true purposes of prayers, Islam has ordained the organization
of rows, whereby men stand in front lines, and women behind the
children. Anyone with some knowledge of the nature and purpose
of Muslim prayers can readily understand the wisdom of organizing
the lines of worshippers in this manner.
The Muslim woman is always associated
with an old tradition known as the "veil". It is Islamic that
the woman should beautify herself with the veil of honour, dignity,
chastity, purity and integrity. She should refrain from all deeds
and gestures that might stir the passions of people other than
her legitimate husband or cause evil suspicion of her morality.
She is warned not to display her charms or expose her physical
attractions before strangers. The veil which she must put on is
one that can save her soul from weakness, her mind from indulgence,
her eyes from lustful looks, and her personality from demoralization.
Islam is most concerned with the integrity of woman, with the
safeguarding of her morals and morale and with the protection
of her character and personality (Qur'an, 24:30-31).
By now it is clear that the status of woman in Islam is extremely
high (in comparison to other religions) and realistically suitable
to her nature. Her rights and duties are equal to those of man
but not necessarily or absolutely identical with them. If she
is deprived of one thing in some aspect, she is fully compensated
for it with more things in many other aspects. The fact that she
belongs to the female sex has no bearing on her human status or
independent personality, and it is no basis for justification
of prejudice against her or injustice to her person. Islam gives
her as much as is required of her. Her rights match beautifully
with her duties. The balance between rights and duties is maintained,
and no side overweighs the other. The whole status of woman is
given clearly in the Qur'anic verse which may be translated as
women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according
to what is equitable; but man have a degree (of advantage as in
some cases of inheritance) over them
is not a title of supremacy or an authorization of dominance over
her. It is to correspond with the extra responsibilities of man
and give him some compensation for his unlimited liabilities.
The above mentioned verse is always interpreted in the light of
It is these
extra responsibilities that give man a degree over woman in some
economic aspects. It is not a higher degree in humanity or in
character. Nor is it a dominance of one over the other or suppression
of one by the other. It is a distribution of God's abundance according
to the needs of the nature of which God is the Maker. And He knows
best what is good for woman and what is good for man. God is absolutely
true when He declares: